Game to take on domestic violence
Students in Vermont work on the game for a UN project. Possible users? Cape Town youths.
Creating a fun game may seem an unlikely way to tackle the serious problem of domestic violence. But that’s the task facing a team of college students in quaint Vermont. An added challenge: The digital game has to be appealing and accessible to young people half a world away, in the townships of Cape Town, South Africa.Skip to next paragraph
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As part of a broader campaign against gender violence, the United Nations wants to reach children, particularly boys, before stereotypes sink in. Seeing the global popularity of gaming, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) decided to partner with two media centers in Vermont. They hope to make a game available by the end of next year that can be adapted for various cultures.
“Games have evolved beyond entertainment and are a wonderful environment for exploring complex issues,” says Suzanne Seggerman, president of Games for Change, a nonprofit in New York. “They let players try on new roles, new perspectives that they don’t otherwise have access to. And for difficult subjects like domestic violence, there isn’t a lot of opportunity for kids to explore other kinds of behaviors.”
Students travel to Cape Town
A team of 15 students from Champlain College in Burlington, Vt., was hired to work on the project with the school’s Emergent Media Center. The students include art and marketing majors as well as programmers and electronic game designers.
Along with faculty supervisors, they recently traveled to Cape Town to better understand what kind of game scenarios might help young people challenge the patterns that lead to abuse. They surveyed and interviewed teens on how they spend free time, what technology they use, and how they view gender and violence.
The students gain professional experience, and they are well positioned for this work because “they are more able to talk to [game] users on a peer-to-peer basis and they are more aware of the latest developments in the game industry,” says Aminata Toure, who’s overseeing the project as chief of UNFPA’s Gender, Human Rights and Culture Branch Technical Division. As she meets with the students at the Emergent Media Center, she looks at photos from their trip and probes for some of the insights they gained.
Interviews with the Cape Town boys revealed that they competed for girlfriends and believed many sexual myths.